During my mother’s funeral last November, I decided to sit close to one of the village elders, a Salvation Army senior cadet, to share a few life experiences. He could have been one of those parents whose daughters we pestered in our teen years. He was first to introduce himself upon noticing I could not remember his name.
‘I am sure you do not remember me, Mr. Kanyama,’ he recounted in a soft voice. ‘We were together at this (Chikankata) primary school except you were two years ahead of me.’
‘Really?’ That is all I remember saying as my mental mind immediately disconnected, trying to navigate itself into the new reality. He was a typical village grandfather and it now emerged I was older than him.
I excused myself to check for something in my vehicle parked a few meters from where we sat, opened the passenger seat and unfolded the mirror inside the vehicle. I looked at myself again and could not still comprehend my appearance had changed. That was a new reality: I was old, and the best was to accept it, make necessary life adjustments and begin to behave as someone that old.
There are many businesses that refuse to look themselves up into the mirror and accept that they no longer command market share. Their bitterest rivals, who a few years earlier were not an inch closer being called ‘competitor’ now stood as market champions. It pains losing market share, and the reality is a hard pill to swallow. It is also difficult to accept your business is suddenly failing, laden with humongous administrative and operational costs when just two years earlier, banks were queuing up to lend you money. Now, bank managers switch you off each time you contact them for an appointment. You have defaulted and still want to borrow more money!
In the past one year, I worked with many companies to develop strategic plans. I have an interesting team of professionals working with me though my area of interest in all these strategy review meetings is on helping businesses come to terms with reality – that their strategic objectives can be as unrealistic as having a leopard share common pasture with an impala.
Some businesses are obsessed with maintaining certain clients just to keep them away from a competitor without realising those same clients are the very reason profits have plummeted. I observed a couple of banks just want to maintain market leadership at the expense of quality loan books.
Today’s business leaders should remember that shareholders are now more demanding than ever before. One shareholder told me during consultations for a client, ‘We are no longer interested in elaborate operational strategies,’ implying that their interest is focused on return on investment. There are no explanations that can satisfy them and overly expectant shareholder.
I had some discussion with another shareholder of a large establishment who expressed disappointment at the failure by management to declare dividends on the back of low copper prices, depreciated Kwacha, power outages and high inflation in 2016:
‘That is nosense,’ he lamented, ‘Management is hired to have realistic assumptions and not to register excuses on their balance sheets.’
In September and October last year, I was privileged to be among the speakers at the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) Summits in Lusaka and Livingstone, respectively, and was impressed at the quality of discussions, a frank talk on the new realities that it is no longer business as usual for State Owned enterprises.
Unless someone says it to you, it is possible to think you are in the right direction, what more if you are making money! You will never know of the new opportunities or challenges facing your business unless you have timely and appropriate feedback. Admittedly, each business type has its own problem. Like someone says, ‘If you have reached a plateau, the next step is not necessarily up.’
I also recently discovered many businesses encountering problems of low productivity have identified ‘team building and staff motivation talks’ as the cure. I have advised a few of them to carry out thorough diagnosis of their operations because business repositioning is more than taking out all staff to Chaminuka, play a few balls and think the team has jelled and disease treated. This is time for reality check and not grossing over or ignoring problems.
I have a lot to share in this column and am happy to interact with you in coming period.
(Read ‘Talking business with Chibamba Kanyama every Tuesday in your printed News Diggers copy)